Colour me chuffed

Under the headline How philosophy is making me a better scientist, Rasha Shraim discusses how her undergrad degree in Philosophy is helping her in genomics and data science.1

The article ends by recommending Philosophy resources for scientists and, under the heading of Logic and inference, suggests my free textbook forall x.

They don’t link to the webpage for the textbook here at, instead linking to the University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library. Nonethless, the give the citation as “(Fecundity, 2012).” It’s odd to see that in the same sentence as “(Oxford Univ. Press, 2012).”

Open access and the falsest of false dilemmas

It’s been a while since I’ve complained about the narrow understandings of open access that too many people have got, but I’ve been meaning to post about Keith Burgess-Jackson’s provacatively titled Why I Publish in “Predatory” Journals—and Why You Should, Too. He argues rightly that open-access journals have several advantages over traditional journals, but fails to imagine relevant alternatives. To summarize the advantages he discusses:

  1. Audience: More people will read a freely available article than one that’s only available to subscribers and pirates.
  2. Publication speed: Traditional journals can be slow both to review an article and to put it into print.
  3. Length: Traditional journals often won’t publish papers longer than 7-8,000 words.
  4. Ownership: Traditional journals often require authors to relinquish copyright.
  5. Referees: Journal referees often respond in obtuse ways. They either reject a paper for weird reasons or demand unnecessary changes.

On the basis of these reasons, he argues that (a) we should stop publishing in traditional journals and (b) we should start paying open-access journals to publish our papers.

This is the falsest of false dilemmas, and the recommendation he arrives at is pretty bad.

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an excerpt from “The Case of the Classical Stabbing”

“I say, Holmes, how did you know that the crucial evidence would be in the galley of the yacht?”

“It was an elementary inference, Watson. As you were so quick to point out, the locked room showed that the murderer could not possibly have committed the crime and escaped. Yet the body of the victim and the absence of murderer showed that they had done so. I was puzzled until I remembered that everything follows from a contradiction, and this allowed me to conclude that the crucial evidence would be wherever I looked.”

“I see,” I said, although I really did not see. “But why the galley of the yacht?”

Holmes looked at me as if I were missing the obvious. “Because I was hungry. If I could find the evidence anywhere, then I might as well find it somewhere I could also make a sandwich.”

“Right then! But what about relevance constraints on logical consequence?”

“Watson, you disappoint me. If there were relevance constraints on consequence, then I could not have solved the crime. I did, so there are not.”

Then I realized that I, too, could derive anything from the contradiction Holmes had exploited. So Holmes conceded that I was clever, poured me a cup of tea, and left me alone for the rest of the afternoon.

Same words, different meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about cover versions lately. A cover is typically the same song as the original version. Even if the words are changed a little, the broader meaning is the same. An example I’ve used before is Willie Nelson’s cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Where Simon sings about “a girl from New York City”, Nelson makes it “a girl from Austin Texas.”

Yet there are also cases in which the very same lyrics can mean something different, because of a change in who sings them. Consider some examples.

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Footnote to an allusion

In an earlier post, I overthought the Paul Simon line “I was living in London with the girl from the song before.” In an earlier draft of that post, I quoted more of the song.

Good intention: I copied and pasted from a lyrics site, to avoid making a typo.

Poor execution: The site I copied from had “the summer before” as the lyric!

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How blogging went in 2020

For a while I had the minimal goal of writing at least one post every month, but I’ve failed at that for a couple of years now. The new goal is just to blog at least every once in a while, so that it doesn’t become moribund.

Last year I wrote 43 entries that totaled to over 15K words. As you can see below, that’s middling output. I have the sense that I wrote more about teaching this year than in previous years, because the shift on-line forced me to be more reflective about pedagogy.

Blog output per year, normalized so that entries and words can go on the same axis.

The magic of allusion

I’ve been thinking about allusion recently, specifically the claim that “it is impossible to properly appreciate an allusion without considering what it is an allusion to.”1

Of course, it is impossible to understand an allusion in a semantic sense if you don’t know what it’s alluding to. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to properly appreciate it in an aesthetic or artistic sense.

Take this example, from the Paul Simon song “The Late Great Johnny Ace”:

I was living in London
With the girl from the song before

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Tips for writing a philosophy paper

Over on Twitter, Helen de Cruz asked: “Can anyone give me examples of philosophers (preferably recently) who have argued that philosophy’s all about argument–that stuff like emotions, moods, the beauty of writing, doesn’t matter to philosophical work and might even be distracting?”

I suggested that this comes out more in teaching than in written philosophy. It’s almost— but not quite— something I say in the page of writing advice that I hand out along with the first paper assignment in courses that I teach.1

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